NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As head coach Mike Vrabel’s said when asked about the potential return of injured CB Adoree’ Jackson, one change isn’t going to magically fix the Tennessee Titans‘ disastrous third-down defense.
“One guy is not going to make a difference,” Vrabel said. “He’s going to help.”
What could lead to ending the Titans’ third-down woes, though, is the same thing that fixed the Titans offense in 2019: a spark.
THEY NEED A SPARK
Don’t know that we really learned anything about the #Titans in this one. Right now, they’re a gritty team with a talented offense and a defense that’s a liability.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) October 25, 2020
That spark could be Jackson’s return, who has clearly been missed in his absence. Having Jackson, a speedy and talented man-coverage corner, back in the fold will allow the Titans to rely less on struggling players like Johnathan Joseph and Tye Smith.
A spark could also come from more players getting on the same page with defensive play-caller Shane Bowen, something that seems to be a problem, right now.
“Shane hasn’t had the opportunity to come in for OTAs and work with all of us,” LB Rashaan Evans said. “He hasn’t had that many in-game situations with the preseason.”
Regardless of how a spark comes, it’s clear that the Titans’ defense needs one.
Against the Steelers on Sunday, the Titans’ third-down defense turned in arguably its worst performance of the 2020 season, allowing QB Ben Roethlisberger and crew to convert 13 of the 18 third downs they faced.
Add to that the fact that, entering the game, the Titans’ third-down defense was already the league’s worst in terms of opponents’ conversion percentage, and it becomes clear that the Titans defense has a significant problem on its hands.
“Our third-down defense and red zone defense has to be better if we’re going to continue to win games,” safety Kevin Byard said.
“It starts everywhere, honestly. It starts with communication, it starts with the coverage, the rush. Everything has to be coordinated because I don’t think that we’re really—we’re not as detailed as we need to be.”
JUST LIKE 2019
Some perspective… this time last season:
– Titans were a bottom-five offense coming off scoring 7 points total over two games
– Simmons hadn’t played a snap, A.J. had 14 total catches, Nate Davis sucked
– Arthur Smith and Keith Carter were “bums that needed to be fired”
— Mike Herndon (@MikeMiracles) October 26, 2020
The spot that the Titans defense is currently in, heading into its seventh game of the 2020 season, is not terribly dissimilar from the spot that the Titans offense found itself in heading into its seventh game of the 2019 season.
These days, the Titans offense is one of the NFL’s best units, always keeping the team in games and scoring points in many different ways.
But entering Week Seven of the 2019 season, the Titans offense had scored just seven points over its two most recent games, and nothing looked good.
The quarterback play was bad. The offensive line was dreadful. Receivers weren’t making plays.
Things soon changed dramatically when the Titans pulled the trigger to switch from QB Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill.
The reason that such a drastic change occurred, though, went beyond Tannehill’s efforts.
Tannehill was, statistically, arguably the best QB in the NFL over the second half of the 2019 season, and that level of QB play can definitely make every player on the offense better.
But it seems unlikely that Tannehill’s mere presence in the lineup led to guard Rodger Saffold figuring out how to pick up stunts in pass protection, WR A.J. Brown learning how to consistently take games over, offensive coordinator Arthur Smith not calling bad plays or LT Taylor Lewan ending his penalty spree.
GETTING THE BALL ROLLING
How, then, did Tannehill fit into the improvement? He was the spark.
It took every player and coach with a role in the Titans offense getting better for the massive improvement to occur, but Tannehill set it in motion. He got the ball rolling.
That ball hasn’t stopped rolling yet.
The 2019 Titans’ offense proved that, though a spark doesn’t fix everything, it can begin a process of major issues getting fixed.
It’s time for the 2020 Titans’ defense to find their spark.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today